Kavanaugh: A year after Weinstein

Ysabela Golden

On Saturday, Oct. 6, one of the most contentious Senate battles in recent history—which is really saying something nowadays—came to a close with Judge Brett Kavanaugh being sworn into the Supreme Court. Considering the Republican majority in the Senate and the 1991 precedent of conservative Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas having been confirmed despite facing accusations of sexual harassment, the results are hardly shocking, but still a disappointment to liberals and survivors of sexual assault across the country. Republicans can look forward to the fruition of Trump’s campaign promise to overturn Roe v. Wade; Democrats can look back over the years since Thomas’ approval and wonder if the world has really changed at all. The atmosphere of the “Me Too” era might have resulted in Dr. Christine Blasey Ford being taken more seriously than Thomas’ accuser Anita Hill, or convinced Republicans on the judiciary committee to take precautions against appearing sexist, like hiring prosecutor Rachel Mitchell to ask their questions for them, but ultimately wasn’t enough to block Kavanaugh from getting his dream job.

But Kavanaugh’s confirmation isn’t actually a turn away from the general trend since the outburst of accusations against Harvey Weinstein last October. The world has changed since Anita Hill was infamously slandered as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty.” Sen. Chuck Grassley, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, seemed committed to making his point when he said “I promised Dr. Ford that I would do everything in my power […] to establish the most fair and respectful treatment of the witnesses possible.” Maybe it was the threat of midterm elections on the horizon, but Judiciary Committee Republicans were on their best behavior during Blasey Ford’s half of the hearing, telegraphing to their female voters that they felt she (and by extent, they) had the right to be heard.

Unfortunately, being heard is as far as Blasey Ford and many other sexual assault survivors have been able to go. Though two of the most infamous offenders have been confronted with legal consequences for their behaviors – Bill Cosby having been sent to prison and Harvey Weinstein having finally been charged with first and third degree rape – the results of the Kavanaugh case are far more par for the course in terms of resolutions to #MeToo accusations. Last November, Los Angeles created an entire task force to handle the surge in high profile accusations of sexual misconduct, taking on the cases of almost two dozen entertainment industry powerhouses. None of them have been charged in the year since. Most cases were thrown out for having allegations that went over the statute of limitations, as our legal system’s requirement for quickly reported hard evidence meshes poorly with #MeToo’s encouragement to come forward with long-private histories of abuse or harassment. 

Though inspiring victims of sexual assault to come forward is certainly a progression from shaming them into silence, there’s a difference between growth in the way society treats accusers and growth in the way our legal system deals with the accused. We may live in a world where even Senate Republicans find Blasey Ford’s testimony “credible”—we just don’t yet live in a world where that testimony results in anything more than a hit to Kavanaugh’s reputation.